Saturday, February 23, 2013

Say what?

I need to make it clear that I think that the English folks at Virginia's Department of Education do an excellent job making all kinds of resources available to teachers and students in support of their Standards of Learning Assessments. They also allow teachers to apply to work on the committees that see the tests through just about from start to finish. Every effort is made to construct valid measures of students' abilities to read and write.

But I have to tell you about the practice writing tool that is available on line. It's a stripped down word processing program that children will use to type their essay responses to prompts in March. The tool is user friendly, right down to my favorite feature-- the indent button. You would not believe how many times I have to reteach how to indent a in literally. But that's a different story for a different day.

This entry is all about the spell check feature. This is the first year students may not use paper dictionaries, but they can use a feature that will underline suspicious words in red and offer suggestions, if you left click your mouse. It's pretty awesome, if you ask me.

Lissen here, all y'all. That spell check doesn't care for dialect atall. Makes sense, right? I think so, but here's where I got into trouble. I was modeling an essay for my students using the "if I could visit anywhere in the world" prompt. Well, I decided to go back in time and visit with my grandparents at their home. It was a lovely summer night, full of corn shuckin' and sweet tea drinkin', and my grandpa talkin' like my grandpa did.

The words were "git" and "gonna." They look harmless enough, don't they? When I was showing my kids that dialect will most likely be considered a misspelling by the program, and that they should just double check to make sure they are spelling their dialect consistently and purposefully, if needed-- I clicked on the suggested words to prove my point.

Hmmm. One of the recommended words for "git" was "tit." I innocently clicked "gonna" to be rewarded with "gonads." Just so you can picture this, I had set up my projector in order to magnify the program on the screen in the front of the room.

I can't really say I was surprised. I mean, those words are in the dictionary. I just found myself wondering about the essay that would necessitate those words, and the scorer who would undoubtedly need a cold drink after work. And then I pictured a young Hunter S. Thompson sharpening his wit for a standardized test, and my heart got a little warm just thinking about the whole ding-dang lexicon being open to all of our kids.

Graffiti Talk

So...this is similar to chalk talk, but students get to write on their desktops.   It's time to get out your bucket of dry erase markers in a variety of colors.   Hopefully, you've been blessed with student desks that have light colored workspaces.   If the markers aren't visible, it's a no-go.

First, students will need to read text that will allow them to think for a bit.

Then, you will hand out markers.

Ask students to think of a comment, a question, an image and a connection that reflects their interaction with the selection.

Students will write these on their desks.

Next, students will travel around the room with their markers to read others' responses.   They should comment on at least two other desktops.   They can answer the question or add to the illustration.   They can add their own comments or questions.

I tried this out with "The Evil Eye" from Jamestown Publisher's Wild Side:Beyond Belief series.  
Here's how the discussion went in one of my advanced language arts classes:

Some cultures use charms to protect people from the evil eye.

One student has a family member with such a charm.

Black and white marbles, lemons, garlic, spit...all protection from the evil eye.

Students were fascinated with the fact that spit was used to protect a baby from the evil eye, if someone remarked on the baby's beauty without following the compliment with a criticism.

If you do not have a hoard of dry erase markers, make a mental note to watch for the August Back to School sales at Rite Aid and Walgreens.   Often the Sunday newspaper inserts will have coupons for additional savings.   Walgreens usually adds an additional teacher discount in August.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013


Don't we just love to laugh at ourselves...
as long as we're laughing at animals behaving like humans?   
Fables must have been all the rage at some point in time,
but Aesop seems to have fallen a little out of the mainstream now.

May I also remind you of Toonces?
Here he is in his rebellious phase.
Watch him roll his eyes!

How about some teen angst in French WITH SUBTITLES?

Today's lesson is--
when teens are a little surly and complacent, it's not amusing.
BUT when cats are--
that's a different story.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Wonder: A Blog Inside a Blog

Help Readers Love Reading: Wonder by R. J. Palacio

Thanks to my own middle skoo pal, Laura, I can share this ^ resource with you.   I have nothing to do with all of the hard work that went into this awesome site.   It's full of clips, links, songs and photos to help children visualize and understand the pop culture references in R.J. Palacio's Wonder.

What's Wonder all about?   Check out this book trailer:

Wonder has a broad appeal, and even though the main character is youngish, my 8th graders are enjoying his story right now.   When we talk about struggling readers, they are often open to a variety of stories, if you will provide the support they need to get through them.

I've been alternating my read-alouds with the book on CD.   So far we've only gotten through two parts, meaning two voices.   I'm not crazy about the voices that we're chosen to narrate, but sometimes my throat needs a break.   Now, I can use the resources this wonderful teacher has assembled to help kids get some of the references that are made in the book, most often by Auggie.   A good reader visualizes without thinking twice.   Others could use a little assistance.

Today we used paint chips to copy September's precept from the book.   Each child wrote on two paint chips.   They will hang one in a public spot.   My friends will help out by hanging the others.

What's September's precept?

"When given the choice between being right or being kind, choose kind." (Dr. Wayne Dyer)

(For the record, I am well aware that I could also use a little personal growth, so I'm keeping one of the less legible tags for myownself.)

Long after I was out of paint chips for our Random Acts of Inspiration, people still wanted to participate, so those folks are at the top of my list this go round.

Isn't it good to be reminded every now and then that we are all wonders of creation?

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Groundhog Day...Again

Remember your first year of teaching?  Wasn't ignorance bliss?

Yours, I mean-- not the students'. You taught something once, and they learned the skill. Ahhhhhh.

Wasn't it frustrating to have to teach skills they should have learned in 5th, 6th and 7th grade?   I mean, what's going on?  Are those teachers just kicked back reading romance novels while the kiddos run amok?

Once you put it all together you gasped in horror.  Those teachers were teaching, so were you. Your students were going to advance to the next grade with no ability to demonstrate some of the lessons that you taught them.

Ouch.  Yeah.  I can still feel the burn.

I feel it every time an 8th grader asks me what similes, metaphors, hyperbole and personification are...again.

And again.

If you're like me, that last one always gets you.  Personification has all of the quietude of Vegas.  PERSONification.  It's like a neon sign with dancing girls wearing fancy costumes and big, foam "We're #1" fingers pointing to P-E-R-S-O-N.  It's the official "If it were a snake" literary device.

I feel it for every apostrophe a child rains down on his paper to make something plural. I feel it every time there's an "a" slammed next to a "lot."   Contractions?  To, Two, Too/  Were, We're, Where/  There, Their, They're...   I could go on.

I'm not talking about the Queen's English.  I'm talking about what it takes to read and write on grade level.  Lawd.

This morning I stopped by the workroom after dawn cracked to flip the switch on the copier, so it would be ready for the first user.  Someone had left a worksheet behind.  Golden.  It was full of commonly misused and confused words.

Are you going to suffocate under (to, two, too) many papers to grade?  (Your, You're) students are over (there, they're, their) crawling out of the library's window towards freedom.

Okay.  It didn't say that exactly, but that was the format.  Eighth graders can always use more practice with these skills.  AND I just happened to read about a cool dry-erase marker technique on a Facebook page.  Teachers were advising a French instructor to allow students the chance to write their vocabulary words on their desks for practice. They are (They're) easily erased.  Cool.

So, instead of handing out the worksheet, I read each sentence aloud and indicated the word that I wanted them to spell.  They wrote it.  I walked around the room to check their work.  If they were correct, I told them to erase the word to get ready for the next.  If they were incorrect, they tried again.  And, yes, I retaught contractions.


And I bet the fat lady hasn't sung on that one yet either.

(Luckily, I stocked up on dry-erase markers at Walgreens during the Back-To-School sales like a true hoarder who had no idea how 50 markers would come in handy during this school year.)